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March 22, 2019

Italy's far-right Salvini calls for populist 'European spring'

Italy's far-right Salvini calls for populist 'European spring'
'Salvini (L), seen with Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski (R), said "we have a new plan for Europe" ' - By: AFP Janek SKARZYNSKI

Far-right Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Wednesday said populists from Italy and Poland should spark a "European spring" to replace the centre-right influence of Germany and France, as the EU prepares for key elections.

Salvini, who is also Italy's deputy prime minister, was speaking in Warsaw ahead of talks with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful leader of the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, expected to focus on European parliamentary elections scheduled for late May.

The vote could see nationalist and far-right parties across Europe upset the bloc's balance of power currently dominated by the centre-right.

"We are preparing a new equilibrium and new energy in Europe and Poland and Italy, absolutely, will lead this new European spring," Salvini said in the Polish capital Warsaw, adding that "we have a new plan for Europe" intended to replace the dominant "French-German axis".

Salvini's anti-immigration League party has ruled in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement since a general election last year.

Rome has had numerous spats with Brussels, notably over immigration and the country's efforts to implement a big-spending budget to apply populist measures.

Last month Italy passed a revised 2019 budget, watering down key measures to avoid being punished by the European Commission and financial markets.

- 'Discrimination'? -

Salvini also told Polish media he had spoken about creating a "Italian-Polish axis" in closed-door talks with PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Earlier on Wednesday, Morawiecki said his government shared "many" of the criticisms levelled at the EU by Salvini, accusing Brussels of discriminating against some countries.

"Different member states are treated quite differently in very similar situations, so this probably a definition of discrimination, isn't it?" Morawiecki told US broadcaster CNBC on Wednesday.

"One country has a budget deficit of 2.4 percent (Italy) and another country has a deficit exceeding 3 percent (France)... and they are treated differently because of some other aspects," he said, referring to a budget dispute between Brussels and Rome.

"There should not be this different treatment by Brussels," Morawiecki said, adding that "so with Mr Salvini we are on the same page with regards to many European matters."

Also facing a general election at home in Poland late this year, Morawiecki recently appointed young far-right politician Adam Andruszkiewicz, in what critics say amounts to a bid to court groups with anti-migrant and ultra-nationalist views.

Since taking office in 2015, the PiS government has put Poland on a collision course with the EU over a string of controversial judicial reforms.

Brussels insists the measures pose a threat to judicial independence, the rule of law and ultimately to democracy.

Warsaw has since backed out of its reform aimed at retiring Supreme Court judges deemed by the EU's top court to undermine judicial independence.

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